One could argue that an all-white shoe is the purest expression of sneaker design.
Here, the shoe does not rely on loud colors or patterns as a styling crutch; the use of clean lines and materials is enough.
The aesthetic minimalism of a white sneaker offers immense versatility. Like a pair of blue jeans, these shoes effortlessly blend with almost everything you wear – business casuals and Neapolitan suits included.
Retro silhouettes have another thing going for them. Some of the shoes have been around for more than half a century, so they’re unlikely to fade away into obscurity. It never hurts to have an interesting back-story or historical legacy.
Sure, there will be ebb and flows. We removed the Nike Classic Cortez because it no longer appears to be in trend. But it will be back – such is the cyclical nature of the ‘re-issued’ sneaker business.
The Tretorn Nylite plus is an excellent example of what we mean. When we first wrote this buyer’s guide in 2019, the Nylite was just ‘another’ white sneaker with history. Today, it’s a hot commodity – thanks to popular entertainers wearing them. Joe Keery of ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Free Guy’ was seen wearing a Tretorn, and so have others.
The pricing is what makes some of the classic sneakers popular. Most of the shoes retail below $100 – and the canvas models cost nearly half of that. For a relatively affordable price, retro sneakers offer an excellent blend of style, comfort, and durability – a value proposition that is not easily met by modern sneakers.
And lastly, wearing a stylish white sneaker is a sign of impeccable fashion taste.
Most of the shoes featured in this guide are true vintage classics with a history spanning several decades. Except for the Cole Haan GrandPro sneaker and Veja V10, that is.
The Cole Haan is here because some people like the classic tennis styling without the firm cushioning of the cupsole design. With its lightweight EVA cushioning, the Grandpro Laser-cut happens to be an excellent workaround for reducing weight and increasing ride comfort.
A distilled list of 15 shoes doesn’t do justice to the vast realm of white trainers. Thus, we’ve squeezed in a few under the ‘also see’ section. The recommendations are sorted alphabetically:
1) adidas Stan Smith
Contrary to sneaker folklore, the original 1965 adidas Stan Smith wasn’t made for the eponymous American Tennis player. It was designed in collaboration with the French Tennis player Robert Haillet. It was only in 1971 that this model got re-branded and endorsed by Stan Smith on the tennis court.
The storied legacy aside, the timeless appeal of the Stan Smith lies in its simplicity. This shoe was one of the first adidas models to feature a perforated three-stripes logo – a design element that kept the leather upper looking clean yet breathable. The smooth leather heel lining and the padded tongue add lots of everyday comfort.
There’s plenty of grip, comfort, and durability in the partially stitched-down rubber cupsole. If you’re wearing one, it is assumed that you know your classics well.
The Stan Smith is excellent value for its $80 MSRP. A waterproof Gore-Tex version is also occasionally found for a $20 price premium.
Also see: Fred Perry B721 leather
2) adidas Superstar
The adidas Superstar is a case study in original influencer marketing – long before the era of Instagram.
The ’80s Hip Hop band Run-DMC single-handedly propelled the SuperStar into a permanent hall-of-fame status after they proclaimed their love for the shoe in ‘my adidas’ single.
It’s not as if this shoe was faring poorly before Run-DMC. The 1969 Superstar was a low-top version of a pro Basketball shoe, so it was packed with performance athletic features that made it very comfortable for its time. The visually clean upper and the distinctive ‘Shell toe’ also helped build its case as a mainstream staple.
But without the partnership that eventually followed, the Superstar would be nowhere popular as it is today.
Like the Stan Smith, the adidas Superstar is an affordable sub $100 classic that pairs well with practically anything you throw at it.
3) adidas NMD_R1
When we reviewed the NMD_R1 a couple of years ago, we explained the reasons for the midsole foam plug’s existence in the 1980’s. But today, they are merely cosmetic and serve no other purpose other than adding a retro aspect to a modern sneaker.
And the NMD_R1 is contemporary as it gets. A full-length Boost midsole makes all-day wearing extremely comfortable, while the mesh upper keeps the foot supported inside.
If you’re a fan of the retro aesthetic in a modern package, you can have it in white too.
4) adidas Continental ’80
Of late, we’re noticing more Continental 80’s on the feet than the Superstar or Stansmith. We can also see why it’s a sensible pick.
The design combines a comfortable ride and upper fit with retro-styling in a durable package. The milled leather upper and terry heel collar deliver a comfortable and supportive fit; underneath, the EVA foam core creates a cushioned base for everyday use.
The rubber outsole adds several months to the life of the shoe. It’s also very functional; the ‘pillar’ lugs were originally designed for use on the Tennis courts in the 1980s, so they offer great traction in the urban environment as well.
A two-tone red and black strap on the side gives this white sneaker a distinctive styling edge.
5) Cole Haan GrandPro Rally Laser Cut sneaker
Many brands focus on the all-white, contemporary-minimalist sneaker concept, but getting it right is easier said than done.
The Cole Haan GrandPro laser cut is an exception. Every brand has a hit every once in a while, and for Cole Haan, this shoe was their sleeper hit of 2020. It continues to go strong in 2021 and likely for 2022 as well. Though this shoe is expensive, several design features make it worth so.
Unlike the multi-pattern design of most sneakers, this CH shoe follows a ‘whole-cut’ pattern. The outer upper is made of a single piece of leather with only a heel seam joint and a separate tongue. Besides giving the upper a streamlined look, this makes the fit very smooth and seamless.
The sizing fits true yet narrow. And in what’s a rarity within the sneaker industry, this shoe is sold in a wide as well. So wearers who find the standard fit too narrow should buy the wide sizing.
The color is more cream than harsh white, and that contrasts nicely with the pure white midsole. Since there’re no logos or overlays, the GrandPro has an exceptionally clean exterior. The heel midsole stitching is a nice touch of detail.
There’s plenty of comfort as well. The laser perforations keep the interiors ventilated, and an Ortholite insole keeps the foot padded. The GrandPro doesn’t use a rubber outsole; the EVA foam stack is both the midsole and the outsole. We’ve used this shoe to walk around town this summer, and the ride comfort isn’t lacking at all.
Though we’ve focused on the white-white color variant here, there’s a beautiful brown version too. We liked them so much that we bought both of them. A detailed review will follow soon.
6) Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Ox
The Ox is the low-top version of the Chuck Taylor Hi, the oldest surviving sneaker model with more than a century of history. It’s been around since 1917, and in 1923 it took on the label of the namesake basketball player.
Though many revisions have been made to the design over the years, the CT retains the vintage rubber autoclave midsole and the basic lace-up upper.
And that’s one of the reasons why the Chucks have stood the test of time. The canvas upper is conforming and breathable; the rubber outsole and the foam insole make the ride comfortable and flexible.
The affordable pricing helps too.
7) Converse Jack Purcell Gold Standard Leather
This is one of Solereview’s favorite white classic sneakers. Though a canvas version of the Jack Purcell exists alongside, the leather version is something else. The upper is aesthetically minimal with no clutter at all – the white-on-white looks so pristine.
Named after the 1930’s badminton athlete, the Jack Purcell was originally owned by the Goodrich Rubber company. Like the adidas Superstar’s distinctive Shell toe, it is easy to identify a JP by its ‘smiley’ groove molded into the integrated rubber toe-cap.
Inside the shoe is a molded insole that provides plenty of step-in comfort. The rubber outsole looks flat, but it isn’t. The JP has near-invisible grooves ‘hot knifed’ into the surface for grip and flexibility.
8) Nike Air Force 1
This shoe has a permanent residence in the sneaker hall of fame.
Like many other retro sneakers, the AF1 started its life as a performance basketball shoe before crossing over to the casual-wear market. The simplicity of its white all-leather upper has been a fertile canvas for thousands of custom paint jobs and collab projects.
Despite its bulk, the Air Force 1 is a very comfortable shoe – thanks to the Nike Air bag embedded inside the rubber cupsole. The AF1 also happens to be one of the most durable sneakers on this guide.
On a side note, the triple black version of the AF1 is in vogue. Nike now sells a waterproof Gore-Tex version
9) Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 1966
The Onitsuka Tiger brand is the heritage-classic division of Asics, and the vintage runner called the Tiger Mexico 66 is one of its prominent pillars.
This was the first model to feature the Onitsuka stripe (now the Asics logo) on the sides, and was endorsed by the Japanese athletics team at the 1968 Olympics.
The Mexico 66 was originally designed for sprinting, so its modern-day interpretation is a low-profile sneaker with minimal cushioning and a very snug fit.
Given its minimalist build, this isn’t the sneaker to wear all day. Otherwise, it is a great style choice for the occasional outing.
10) Puma Basket
If you’re from UK – or Europe – you’ll probably know the Basket’s popular cousin, the Puma Suede.
The Puma Basket is the smooth leather version of the Suede, and is a retro silhouette that began its life as a basketball shoe.
The distinctive Puma stripe makes the Basket distinctly recognizable from afar, and the textured midsole adds depth to the design.
The true-to-size upper has a heel lining made of smooth leather for comfort and easy on-off. If you want to add a color pop, you can replace the chunky white laces with colored ones.
11) Tretorn Nylite Plus
What’s common between a tube of Colgate toothpaste and a pair of Tretorn Nylites? At one point, both were owned by the Colgate-Palmolive company. That is not a made-up fact.
The interesting ownership history aside, no list of white sneakers is complete with a mention of the Tretorn Nylite. There is a good reason why Colgate Palmolive acquired the Tretorn brand in the ’70s from its original Swedish owner.
First launched in 1965, the Nylite was all the rage in the ’80s – it was worn on-court by Tennis greats such as Bjorn Borg, Billie Jean King, and Chris Evert.
There’s plenty of everyday comfort to be found in this basic canvas classic. The terry-lined heel and the tongue feel great over the foot, and the sizing fits true without being overly snug.
And if you haven’t already noticed, the Tretorn Nylite is up on the rise in popular culture. Thanks, Joe Keery.
12) Reebok Classic Leather
This 1987 reissue is traditionally board-lasted over an EVA foam midsole, so these run firm when compared to contemporary foam-based midsoles. That said, a terry-lined interior and insole make the snug-fitting upper comfortable.
But focusing on just the functionality is missing the forest for the trees. The ’80s aesthetics look better in person than imagined, so give these retro sneakers a try – you might be pleased with the result.
If you’re not a fan of the all-leather upper, the Reebok Classic Nylon is a more breathable option that feels softer over the foot.
13) Vans Classic Slip-on
The all-white slip-on upper distills sneaker design to its very fundamentals. There’re no panels, laces, or embellishments of any kind – a few pieces of lined Canvas pieces are joined to a vulcanized midsole.
Despite that, the Vans slip-on proved itself to be a superior skate and BMX shoe since its launch in the ’70s.
The lace-free upper is easy to slip on and off, and the gum rubber outsole delivers a planted and cushioned ride.
Also see: Vans Classic Slip-on leather.
14) Vans Authentic
The Vans Era is a perennial fashion favorite, and unlike many others, it wasn’t made successful due to product placement or influencer collab.
Rather, the timeless appeal of the Vans Era lies in its skate roots. After all, the same qualities that make a good skate shoe are also a part of a versatile everyday sneaker.
The basic canvas upper has the style versatility of a pair of jeans; performance features such as the gum rubber outsole and padded insole add dependable traction and comfort.
15) Veja V10 extra-white sneaker
Veja is an outlier within the sneaker industry. This Parisian brand differentiates itself by relying on sustainable manufacturing techniques. For example, they source wild rubber from Latin America for their insoles and midsoles. The upper lining uses a high level of post-consumer content (67% recycled Polyester) along with organic cotton.
When seen functionally, the Veja V10 feels a lot like many retro-inspired sneakers in the market. The leather upper has a smooth and secure fit, and the sole has sufficient cushioning when used as an everyday use.
The long tongue is a well-known Veja quirk, and the V10 has it too. Since the tongue flap is unlined, it requires a break-in period.